As students settle into classes, athletics and extracurriculars of the second semester, a small group of music majors occupy Byrum Hall’s stage, preparing for the next Boze Lyric Theatre production––Gian Carlo Menotti’s 20th-century opera, “The Medium.”
The opera is about Madame Flora, her 20-year-old daughter Monica, and the 18-year-old mute servant boy rescued off the streets of Budapest as a child, Toby. Pretending to be a medium, Madame Flora scams grieving customers by holding seances with the assistance of Monica and Toby. Mr. and Mrs. Gobineau visit Madame Flora regularly in an attempt to contact their deceased son, and Mrs. Nolan is a newcomer, hoping to find closure in her daughter’s death. An unexpected event happens during a seance with the three clients, leading to a spiral of tragedy.
“The Medium” breaks many of the stereotypes associated with opera. The music in the hour-long production is eerily dissonant, producing a feeling of discomfort and unease in audiences. Many operas are comedic and end well for most or all of the characters. This opera is far from comedic, living in the gothic and dark genres, addressing topics such as trauma, abuse and death.
Sophomore Hannah Knop, playing the medium Madame Flora, elaborated on the dark tone of the show.
“You don’t always get to see something so dark and twisted on stage,” she said. “Usually, you see shows that have a good, heartwarming ending and give audiences a warm feeling and this show has none of that. There are moments, but overall the show is very dark.”
The show addresses difficult topics like trauma and the power it has over a person, alcoholism and its effects, abuse, death, coping with grief, fear of the unknown, spiritualism vs. realism and death of innocence. Senior Clare Lillig, playing Monica, explained:
“It’s interesting to see in this opera how so many things can be brought up, not intentionally, but just because it was and still is a way of life for a lot of people, unfortunately.”
With the darkness of the show and the incredibly difficult music, it is no surprise that the actors have had to work through obstacles. The show has proven quite mentally and emotionally taxing for the cast in both the intense themes and the demanding music and blocking.
“There are a lot of times in this opera where the piano is playing 13 different notes and you have to find your one note that’s not even in the chord,” said Lillig.
Sophomore Brady Day, playing Toby, explained his experience with the show thus far.
“We’ve started to take more of the baggage from the show and from our characters into our real lives,” Day said. “This show has such a funk and such an aura that it’s really hard to shake, and I think that’s a good thing that we’re struggling with that because I hope the audience can struggle with that and ask ‘why did that resonate with me?’”
Day continued, explaining how the cast deals with the emotional and mental taxation of the show.
“I think all the actors approach it differently,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve been dealing well with it, but we’re dealing with it, and I like that. I think it’s going to show if we’re struggling, and we’re trained for this, to be emotional punching bags, and we’re taking it into our lives and having trouble shaking it off, what is that going to do to the audience?”
The cast is comprised of four sophomores and two seniors, all of whom are quite close outside of the show.
“I read the cast list and was immediately excited to get to work on this,” Day said. “It’s nice that I know everyone personally and have worked with everyone on stage, and it’s good to have that trust going into a show.”
Director of “The Medium,” Dr. Fritz Robertson, explained the goal of the production.
“You don’t need to know anything about opera, this is just good stuff,” Robertson said. “I want people to come away with some kind of strong feeling, and it doesn’t have to be ‘I love that piece, and I want to see it again tomorrow.’ Art is supposed to engage you, and you’re supposed to interact with it. Art can be entertainment, but art and entertainment are not synonymous.”
Performances of “The Medium” are Feb. 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m., and 22 and 23 at 2:30 p.m. in Byrum Hall. AU students, faculty and staff receive two free tickets. Tickets can be reserved by calling the box office at (765)-641-4140.